THE HUB - Feature Article

  • We must carry Unity Day message to battle against racism

    Posted by Melvin Edwards on 11/8/2018

    Late last month, schools across our system were joined by businesses and governmental agencies as we took part in the National Bullying Prevention Center’s Unity Day 2018, an initiative designed to visibly show commitments to fostering acceptance and inclusion and eliminating bullying and hate. The day followed a conscious effort during the first weeks of school to develop better relationships between and among students and staff.


    What we saw on October 24 in our schoolhouses and in places around our county was a continuation of the “Be Nice” campaign we launched last year, and a reinforcement of the #WeAreBetterTogether mindset that has permeated much of what we have done over the last six months.


    Our hope was not only to foster awareness for our students through simple acts, but to create – through the wearing and displaying of orange – visible displays in which others could join. Together, we made a powerful statement that created a wave of positivity.


    We must now join together to make another powerful statement.


    In the days since Unity Day, our nation has been gripped by three more horrific tragedies – the senseless slaughter of 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and the murders of two African-Americans at a grocery store in Kentucky and two more people at a yoga studio in Florida. More locally, we have seen two acts of hate – one at a high school and one at a middle school – that threaten not only to tear asunder the momentum of Unity Day and the work we have done to build relationships but thrust our school system backward.


    In one of the incidents, a disgusting and absolutely unacceptable phrase threatening African-Americans was written on a sign-in sheet in a school counseling office. In the second, a student fashioned a noose – a clear symbol of hate – from toilet paper in a bathroom in a repulsive act of bigotry. Those actions will not be tolerated in our schools and should not be tolerated in any corner of our county.


    This must stop.


    We – all of us – must confront those setbacks more vigorously. The county chapter of the NAACP, the Caucus of African-American Leaders, and the United Black Clergy recently issued a statement that declared, in part, that our school system “should partner with community and civil rights organizations such as ours to develop together a more effective and community-wide approach to addressing systemic racism in Anne Arundel County and its government institutions.”


    I wholeheartedly agree and would add that the partnership must not just be a two-way street, but an intersection of a multitude of groups and organizations. As the next step in those efforts, our school system will be setting up a community meeting to address issues of acceptance and inclusion. I want to be clear, however: The duty to eradicate racism and hate is not one to be solely laid at the feet of any single institution, including our school system. We all have a role to play and just as it is when it comes to the education of our children, in this effort, all must mean all.


    Our schools have children in their care for approximately 19 percent of a week. We can do a lot in that time. What we can’t do, however, is overcome what happens during the other 81 percent of the week. If we – all of us – don’t at least have the same goals when it comes to the elimination of racism and hate, we are like a dog chasing its tail and accomplishing nothing.


    Hate-filled, hurtful speech and/or actions have no place in our schools or in our community. However, only when we can acknowledge our progress as well as our pitfalls together will we create a true picture of where we are and where we must go.


    There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step.” We are in the process of setting up that next step.


    Our children and our communities are depending on us – all of us. More details about the community meeting will be forthcoming, and I beg you to join us in this battle.


    The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.

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